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Blood smudge on school of sanskar - Future uncertain for institution that pioneered women’s education

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  • Published 10.08.14

Patna, Aug. 9: Mahatma Gandhi was instrumental in setting up the institution, Acharya Vinoba Bhave laid the foundation stone and Dr Rajendra Prasad paid a visit to oversee the arrangements after its inauguration. But its campus is splattered with blood today.

Balika Vidyapith, the best known residential school for girls in Bihar’s Lakhisarai district, has been closed for the past week after its former secretary, Kumar Sharad Chandra, was brutally murdered on the institute’s premises on August 2, allegedly over a dispute regarding its landed property. The assailants fired at 78-year-old Chandra from close range when he was reading the morning newspapers.

The alma mater of many illustrious women both from Bihar and elsewhere, the “Vanasthali of the East” was on the radar of land sharks for long. The institute, spread over an area of around 100 acres on the National Highway 80, which connects Bihar with Bengal, has at present over 2,000 students from different districts of Bihar.

The future of the students now hangs in the balance following the closure of the school. Prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC were clamped on the campus and the hostels vacated on the directive of the district authorities. The students of nearby villages, along with their parents, blocked National Highway 80 on Thursday in support of their demand to restore the classes as early as possible.

Lakhisarai sub-divisional officer Anjani Kumar, who promulgated the prohibitory orders on August 3, however, expressed his helplessness in conceding the demand of the students.

“The institute is run by a 15-member managing committee of the trust. The bylaws don’t allow interference of the local administration in the institute’s affairs,” he told The Telegraph over phone on Saturday.

He advised the parents of students enrolled in the prestigious school to file a PIL (public interest litigation) in the high court for legal direction. “The district officials can’t or should not go against the existing rules. It is equally true that the closure of the school would harm the students who have been sent to their respective villages in the wake of the murder of its former office-bearer,” Anjani Kumar added.

Though the police claimed to have made a significant breakthrough after the arrest of two alleged sharpshooters from Lakhisarai and Nawada districts, the identity of the conspirator of the sensational murder was yet to be ascertained. “The shooters have been arrested but the SIT requires more time to probe the conspiracy angle of the case,” Lakhisarai superintendent of police Ashok Kumar Singh said.

Chandra’s wife, Usha Sharma, had lodged an FIR with the Lakhisarai Town police station on August 2, accusing seven members of the trust, including Anil Kumar Sharma, the chief managing director of the Delhi-based Amrapali Group.

Anil Sharma, who was the chief administrator of the trust that runs the school, was quick to deny the allegations levelled against him. “I have been falsely implicated in the case. I had resigned from the trusteeship of the institute in March this year. The police should bring the truth to the fore after nabbing the real culprits,” Anil, who had set up his private engineering college on the institute’s premises in 2009, said.

A real estate baron, Anil had unsuccessfully contested the 2014 general election from Jehanabad on a JDU ticket. He had also made an abortive bid to enter the Rajya Sabha with the backing of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Surprisingly, no political leader chose to react to the murder of the former secretary of the institution.

The school has been credited with producing many illustrious women like Mridula Sinha, Krishna Shahi, Usha Kiran Khan and Dharmasheela. Mridula Sinha, a former president of the BJP’s Mahila Morcha and chairperson of the central social welfare board, recalled, “I was enrolled in the Vidyapith in 1951 and passed the secondary school exam from there in 1958.”

Talking to The Telegraph from Delhi, Mridula said: “Such was the reputation of the school that my in-laws accepted my parents’ offer of my marriage as soon as they came to know that I had passed from Vidyapith. My husband Ram Kripal Sinha was a teacher in a reputed college then and later became a minister in the Bihar government.”

She said the academic atmosphere was conducive on the campus from its inception in 1947. Eminent leaders and litterateurs such as Dr Shri Krishna Singh, Anugrah Narayan Sinha, Kaka Kalekar, Mahadevi Verma, Laxmi Menon, Susheela Nayyar and many others were associated with the institution located around 130km east of Patna.

Mridula said the school provided both education and “sanskar” (tradition and culture) to the students. “I can still recite shlokas of the Gita and the Ramcharit Manas, which I learnt at the institute in my childhood. Yoga was a must for each student. All the students had to stay in the hostel,” she added.

An internationally acclaimed educationist and author, Priya Ranjan Trivedi, who is a distant relative of Kumar Sharad Chandra, said the Vidyapith was set up by Mahatma Gandhi’s follower, Brajnandan Sharma and his wife Vidya Devi, at Lakhisarai in 1947.

Trivedi said the couple (Brajnandan and Vidya) worked with Gandhi in Tamil Nadu during the freedom struggle under the banner of Hindi Prayas Sabha. When it became evident that India would get freedom from British rule, Mahatma told his disciples, including Brajnandan, to work for female literary.

Inspired by the Mahatma, Brajnandan opened a school exclusively for girls at Lakhisarai on the land donated by some residents. Another disciple of Gandhi, Heera Lal Shastri, started “Vanasthali” near Jaipur in Rajasthan, modelled on Vidyapith.

“The dreams of the couple, who sacrificed a lot for women’s education at a time when parents didn’t prefer to send their daughters to residential schools, have been shattered with the brutal killing of the founder’s son Kumar Sharad Chandra, who was elected secretary after his retirement from the SS College in Lakhisarai,” Trivedi lamented.

Most of the residents agreed that the incident has brought disrepute to the nationally famed institution. “There was a time when girls from Nepal and Bhutan used to study in the Vidyapith. With the institution mired in controversy, the parents are scared of sending their wards to the school again,” said Lal Babu Singh, a resident of Lakhisarai.

A section of the residents, however, blamed Kumar Sharad Chandra for the mess. “He was in touch with some local goons after a few influential persons started forcibly grabbing the land of the institution. He had to pay the price for his misdeeds,” said Diwakar Kumar, a resident.